[xi] Few things can better serve managers undertaking leadership roles in large, complex, technology-based organizations than knowing how other such organizations have coped with the problems that must be solved to achieve success. Yet few studies of the administrative records provide detailed case studies of how very large research and development programs have been managed, or what has worked and why. The same is true of large, nontechnical endeavors. We have Sapolsky's study of Polaris development, Hewlett and Anderson on the origins of the Atomic Energy Commission, Peck and Scherer on the weapons acquisition process, Sayles and Chandler on managing large systems, and with this book, Arnold Levine's Managing NASA in the Apollo Era.
Dr. Levine's approach and his large investment of time to study the detailed record of documents and interviews, together with his institutional viewpoint, rather than one that is program-oriented, make this an important book. He takes the entire agency, rather than any single component or program, as the subject of his study, emphasizing those features that NASA shared with other federal agencies in the 1960s and with previous large developmental efforts. In addition, Levine seeks differences from other such efforts in the cause-effect coupling in NASA's approach to management. Specific administrative actions are placed within the context of the larger whole. While documenting and describing NASA's formal organizational structure, Levine concentrates on those key policy decisions that ultimately shaped the agency: reliance on the American industrial establishment, not as vendors, but as research and development partners; sharing decision-making with the centers to the fullest extent possible; avoidance of bureaucratic delays and inertia at headquarters; injection of the profit motive into a traditional cost-plus environment; consciously and continuously striving to retain NASA's freedom of action to move forward with strength in those areas necessary
[xii] for success in its missions, even when the concurrence of other officials and agencies was delayed; finally, extensive use of the Department of Defense for contract management and launch and of military personnel in key management positions in NASA itself. This book, by implication, shows that NASA found many traditional management axioms do not apply within the large, complex R&D organization-axioms like "well defined areas of authority and responsibility," "unity of command," "one man, one boss," or "centralized operations." These principles often work well in static organizations, but more is needed if dynamic, large-scale endeavors are to succeed. He describes the role of the federal R&D manager as above all a political one in the sense that he must find ways for inter-personal and inter-organizational relationships to be a positive, rather than a negative, element in achieving the desired results. If NASA program managers, scientists, engineers, and top officials had not thought of their work in political (personal political and organized units-political) terms, if they had not arranged their activities to gain support from other NASA divisions, Congress, the Bureau of the Budget, the scientific community, etc.-Apollo would not have met its goals.
An important value of this book, I think, is in Dr. Levine's meticulous examination of the record for evidence to demonstrate why the NASA structure was adequate to deal with some of the most complex problems any organization has had to face. And increasingly, large organizations confronted with novel technical problems-be they public agencies, multinational corporations, or joint public-private ventures like the civilian space program-will find the NASA approach of a loosely coupled, decentralized organization an effective means of managing such large-scale endeavors. In this regard, Dr. Levine finds, and I believe, that three lessons can be derived from the NASA experience. The first is that political relationships are not (nor can they be) something added on to the work of line managers or program officials as less important than other duties; these relationships are an integral part of their work, inasmuch as personal relationships and a sensitivity to the total environment are essential parts of leadership responsibilities if the system is to work at all.
The second lesson to be derived is that a decentralized organization can be made compatible with precise objectives and timely performance. During the 1960s, Deputy Administrator Hugh Dryden, Associate Administrator Robert Seamans, and I went to considerable lengths both to delegate authority to center directors and project managers whom we had tested by experience or knew from past associations, and to make explicit our reasons for doing so. Levine gives a long list of functions- planning, procurement, launch management, inspection-that could have been, but were not, concentrated at the headquarters level. Our [xiii] philosophy was to give the field installations and their industrial partners the widest discretion compatible with agency missions. The missions NASA was assigned almost dictated considerable autonomy and freedom to innovate at several levels in the organization, while carefully keeping within the framework provided by the Space Act.
The third lesson follows from the second. NASA could not have accomplished its missions without the ability to adapt to continuous change. By adapting I include not only the numerous reorganizations of the 1960s, but also constant attention to the mechanisms introduced to provide senior management with reliable feedback. This is what lay behind the creation of an executive secretariat, the exchange of officials between headquarters and the centers, the development of sophisticated reporting systems, and the constant strengthening of the role of the headquarters program manager as a link between the agency's general manager and the centers. Equally important, Dr. Dryden, Dr. Seamans, and I recognized that reliable feedback requires a flow of information in two directions. Our objective was to ensure that NASA employees, from executives to a point far down the line, understood rather precisely what was to be their role in accomplishing specific missions and that NASA senior officials also understood those factors which most affected the performance of those same executives down the line.
This book, in focusing tightly on issues of organization and governance, to some extent, scants the richness and variety within NASA. I would have liked something about the sustaining university program and the continuing effort to foster interdisciplinary teams at the universities, our international policies, and our attempt to utilize effectively the technologies developed by NASA and its contractors. But these omissions are minor in a work that has much to say to public administrators, managers of large-scale research and development programs, and students of the relation of science and public policy.
At a time when thoughtful observers, including the editors of the Harvard Business Review, are asking, "Do the assumptions on which its market economy rests still have meaning for American Society?" and emphasizing such subjects as "The Morality of the Market Place" and "Capitalism and Freedom," I believe students of administration should seek the effect on NASA's success of such policies as the openness of NASA programs, and the fact that we could say to the press and the scientists and engineers of the eighty nations cooperating, "Come and bring your camera." Dr. Dryden, Dr. Seamans, and I, in making the substantive and administrative decisions, constantly and deliberately sought to spread our most difficult problems over the largest possible number of able minds and to develop means to evaluate, from the broadest national and international viewpoints, the concepts and proposals [xiv] that resulted. We could not know what some of this large number could invent, but we strongly felt many innovative ideas would emerge from a widespread invitation to work on the problems related to an understanding of the solar system and the universe beyond. We constantly sought to develop and employ ways through which all the individuals, organizations, institutions, and government units could build strength for their own purposes while adding to NASA strengths. Our policy was not to draw strength from our partners in such a way as to weaken them, but rather to participate with them in a framework that helped both of us reach our own main objectives.
As to long-range planning, on which Dr. Levine sets down the documentation and finds our efforts inadequate, contrary to many assertions that we had a "blank check," NASA was constantly faced with strong public and private opposition to manned spaceflight. NASA was constantly warned by those political, educational, press, and congressional sources who were most supportive that any evidence of commitment to a large, long-term, expensive program beyond Apollo would lose us the margin of strength needed to finish Apollo. In fact, several near successful efforts were made by influential leaders to cut back on Apollo to the point that we could not assure success. I, myself, and most NASA senior executives were convinced that if Apollo resulted in one or more failures, and was curtailed or eliminated, the monuments to such failure would be visible for a long time in many places-as symbols of U.S. inability to see the project through and master the problems of operating in space. In fact, Apollo and other manned spaceflight projects gave our citizens and those of many other countries tremendous pride and encouragement. Levine summed this up when he wrote: "Webb" (really the senior executive group) "became more determined than ever to salvage Apollo, even if it meant postponing decisions about its sequel." In fact, just as we needed Gemini to guide our work on Apollo, until we had digested the Apollo experience, it was difficult to make fully creditable plans for larger manned missions.
In all the welter of problems and daily immersion of NASA senior executives in both the substantive and administrative issues and actions which Dr. Levine describes, Dr. Dryden, Dr. Seamans, and I never lost sight of the underlying concept that, in our haste, we must not take shortcuts that were not consistent with the basic values on which our democratic society was based.